Sunday, June 23, 2013

Floating: A Swim in the Woods - A Touch of Hollywood

"You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Some that you recognize, some that you hardly ever heard of"
Celluloid Heroes
Ray Davies, The Kinks

Having trudged many years in the world of indies, there has not been a lot of "Hollywood" in my career, but Floating certainly had a little, not just from future star Norman Reedus, but with his co-star, Chad Lowe.

Chad came to Floating off a successful run on the TV series "Life Goes On", where he won an Emmy for portraying an AIDS sufferer. This was at a time when AIDS was still a death sentence, and also came with the stigma of being gay, which Chad was not. Blessed with boy-next-door good looks, those same looks led to unfounded speculation that he was gay. Worse, he had gained the attention he had not sought from gay audiences, who embraced him as a symbol.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being gay, and its great that actors today feel comfortable coming out and not worrying that it will cost them roles. America was not quite there at that time, and it brought some hardships for Chad. Gay characters on television were either sterotypes or objects of sympathy, because, well, didn't everyone know all gay people got AIDS? There were not the positive gay characters we see today.

He had dealt with paparazzi on other projects looking for pictures of him nude or near-nude. As he played a swimmer on this film, shirtless a lot of the times, he tended to have one eye over his shoulders in those scenes. He had some brief nudity, which he had agreed to before the film, but which he  was now reconsidering, for exactly this reason.

Chad's character on this coming-of-age film develops a physical attraction that is unrequited by Norman's character, although his character doesn't think of himself as gay.

It was with this backdrop that I mention some of Chad's quirks, one of which became apparent shortly after we started shooting and his then-girlfriend Hillary Swank showed up. Chad took every opportunity to steal a kiss, hold hands, or anything else to make clear this was his GIRLfriend. (How ironic that Hillary would later win an Oscar for a transgender role.)

Chad was not, at all, a prima donna, worked really hard, had a strong Method background, and took his acting very seriously. Like many Method actors, there would be a lot of questions, sometimes bordering on questioning, of our first-time director, but, otherwise, he was a team player.

Still, growing up in Hollywood the younger brother of a matinee star like Rob had its affectations. Chad would try to do something nice like send a PA to the nearest Starbucks and pick up the order for everyone. The problem was that Concord was not LA (or NY) and there was not a Starbucks every few feet, and I would lose PA for a while.

We were sitting around one night trying to think of someone for a certain as yet un-cast role. When someone suggested a name Hollywood actor that none of us thought would do it, Chad said he could call "Liza," whose number he had on his phone. Yes, that Liza, as in Liza Minelli. Chad had a lot of ties to that old Hollywood (I only recently read that Charlie Sheen, son of Martin, was a childhood friend). Chad was probably the only guy I ever met who had Liza Minelli's number in his phone.

Then, there was Norman Reedus.

If there is something called industry hot, Norman was it. All I heard from producer friends of mine was, "You're going to work with Norman Reedus?" The thing is, at the time, he hadn't done anything of note, but everyone in town wanted him in their film, and we had him.

Of all the great things I had heard about Norman, there was one second-hand rumor I heard from someone that was not, and I foolishly chose to believe it. I won't dignify it by repeating it, because it proved absolutely untrue, but it had me worry about his work ethics, which was ridiculous. The first few days on the film, I probably keep an eye looking for something that wasn't there.

What was there was one of the hardest working guys I ever had the pleasure of watching work. His work was every bit as good as advertised. Besides his talent, Norman had something you could not teach, a combination of swagger and vulnerability that has made earned him the following he has today.

Although he became good friends with the other actors who played his friend, he partied less than any of them, often leaving to go back to his room and work when he had to be up the next morning while the other actors went out.

It would be in some of the scenes in the water that I would gain the most appreciation of Norman's determination, and for those water scenes, I was glad to have as key grip "Dusty" Keith. He was not only our key grip, he was our water safety person, certified as such, and he made me confident that with all the swimming Norman and Chad had to do deep into the lake, he would always be close enough with a boat to get them out safely.  Dusty was key, and I would have bring him on again when I did Man of The Century,

The role of the father was crucial. It was the father's alcoholism that had lead to his losing a leg, and to Van (Norman's) mother. If Van's friendship with Chad's character (Doug) was central, it was because of how it reflected on Norman's relationship with his father.

I am glad that we did not get any of the Hollywood options, and instead cast Will Lyman, who I would later cast in a film called Matty Fresno and the Holoflux Universe.  Will has a solid career as a voice actor, but he had exactly the depth needed for Van's father. He kept him human without making him a monster or the object of sympathy - just real.

Our DP was Wolfgang Held, who has gained much of his notice for his work as a documentary filmmaker. He has worked on some amazing documentaries all over the world, and a few years ago did the Sacha Baron Cohen film Bruno.  Working in rugged terrain, Wolfgang often would go to handheld, and it was handheld that matched much good steadicam work (though we had a great Steadicam op as well, Will Arnot, who was our dolly grip as well).

Wolfgang and I became closer the farther apart Bill, the director and I, grew. While he never took sides, when there was a problem, Wolfgang often came up with solutions that worked for both of us.  Many of these had to do with safety, which definitely became an issue with the terrain, some motorcycle work, and the swimming.

Along with Norman, Josh Marchette and Jonathan Quint, who played Van's friends, became like three amigos, and their chemistry together was great.

The guys
Before I move on to stories about the film, I should note the work of Christine McMillan, my Second AD. Christine was close to my age, and a mother, and was great to help with the actors. There was one scene, in particular, where she helped. When had three young girls (of age, but early twenties playing teens) who had a skinny-dipping scene. I had done many nude scenes with men and women, but given the age of the girls, I thought they would be more comfortable with Christine on set.

There had been times in the past when I had a 2nd AD take the set, but this was one time I thought there was a good reason. Also, because walking on sand was difficult for me, as was the terrain, letting Christine run rehearsals meant I didn't have to make multiple trips that were physically difficult for me. She was a real partner on this film.

As for my relationship with the director, I will talk about that when we get to the film. On films I line produce, I usually have the director meet a few ADs, because even though anyone I recommend can do the job, personality is important. In our case, Bill and I did not have compatible personalities to begin with, and it only got worse when we got into safety and procedural issues.  A large reason I did not quit - or get fired, which was likely - was the even-headedness of Bill's dad, who had put together the financing for the film. More on that later.

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

I like a lot of Indie films and so I really enjoyed this article.